Sunday, June 14, 2009

The $25 Shopping Cart, Version 4.0

I don't usually like to toot my own horn about how good I am at cheap shopping, but at the risk of sounding a little cocky, I think I deserve an award for this edition of The $25 Shopping Cart. Or at least a small round of appreciative applause. Going only $2 over, I was able to grab a nice selection of groceries out of which I can make a few great meals at.... *drum roll, please*

Whole Foods Market.

That's right, ladies & gentlemen! I went on a mission and conquered the "whole paycheck" beast that is Whole Foods. I have been dying to do a $25 Shopping Cart at this wonderful store for quite some time now, but the closest one to me is not that easily accessible by public transit and it's rather far away. However, this weekend I had access to a car and due to an odd twist of fate requiring me to drive for a long time to recharge the battery properly, I was able to head all the way out to my WF.

It had been almost 2 years since I'd last been to Whole Foods, so I was really excited to see how things had changed. Not much had: same great products, same amazing selection, same beautiful quality of produce and fresh meats & seafood. But one very important thing had changed, and very drastically: the prices. Now, they've never been that good to begin with; there is a reason why I lovingly call the place Whole Paycheck. However, it was astonishing to see just how high their prices had climbed, and for smaller quantities to boot. I used to be quite fond of this little pupusa packet that they sold in their refrigerated foods section (pupusas are a traditional Salvadorean corn sort-of-"quesadilla", if you will; I'll definitely be making them here soon, so I'll have a better explanation of what they are later). It came with 4 cheese pupusas, curtido, and salsa, and it only cost $4.49. Now they have this tiny little 2-pack of pupusas with no trimmings for $6.99! Granted, it has been 2 years since I’ve checked things out at Whole Foods, but that just seems like a pretty big price jump for a lot less product. Small, 6 oz cups of yogurt used to go for $1.19 and are now $2.29 for certain varieties. Other outrageous prices included the $6.99/lb asparagus, $4.99 bagged spinach, and $7.99/lb blackberries (!!!). Of course it was lovely, organic produce, but I can get lovely, organic produce for a lot less at the farmer’s market. I could see that most of the produce would be off-limits this time.

Not all things were as scarily priced. Though it was super crowded (they were having some sort of sample promotion in each department of the store), I took my time and went through each aisle, carefully scanning prices and products for some good deals. I refused to believe I couldn’t find something affordable at Whole Foods! Patience was definitely a virtue in this case, and I was able to score some pretty good stuff. Though I don’t have the receipt with me to give you the exact breakdown on each item’s price, I can tell you that the best deal I got besides my Jarlsberg Swiss was a 41-50 count bag of large, fresh frozen shrimp for just $6.99! I can’t even say that TJ’s has a better deal, since their fresh frozen shrimp (not the cooked) starts at $8.99. As much as I love the cooked shrimp, I prefer the fresh frozen because I’m able to play around more with marinades & seasonings that will actually infuse the shrimp with more flavor, so I’m really excited about this score.

Anyway, here’s the list of everything I was able to get (with as many prices as I can remember):
41-50 count bag large, fresh frozen shrimp - $6.99
1 can organic garbanzo beans - $0.89
1 can organic, low-salt black beans - $0.89
1 can organic canellini beans - $0.89
~ 1/2 lb French green lentils (in bulk)
~ 1 lb Israeli cous cous (in bulk)
~ 3/4 lb Jarlesberg Swiss cheese - $3.50
1 carton Good Belly Probiotic Mango Drink - $2.50
1 (very large) bunch organic arugula - $1.99
2 green plantains (not pictured)
1 16 0z. box organic chicken broth
1 16 oz. bag organic tomato & spinach fusilli - $1.89
1 16 oz jar organic mushroom marinara sauce

Grand total: $27.90!

I didn’t get as much as I’m usually able at less expensive stores, but I got some great items from which I can build several different meals, which is the key to making the $25 shopping cart a success. I can’t wait to share some of the great dishes I plan to make with some of this stuff! I already had a lovely dinner of pasta with mushroom marinara and an arugula salad over the weekend, and paired with a glass of wine, it truly looked like I was having a much more expensive meal than I was having. Black bean & plantain soup, a fun little lentil & Israeli cous cous salad, and another shrimp creation will be on the horizon very soon, thanks to Whole Foods. Just goes to show that it really isn’t necessary to leave one’s whole paycheck there to end up with some great meals.


  1. I wish you had been there with me yesterday evening... b/c whole pay check wound up costing me $100.24! The cashier even stayed jokingly, "Wow, you almost kept it under 100." I was suckers in by all the great produce. It doesn it everytime! Good job on your cart though! I'm impressed! ~Lindsay

  2. Any idea where you can get cheap pupusas in the US? (Other than at restaurants). I had never even heard of them till I went to Honduras.


  3. Wow! The high prices you quoted are shocking to me! I shop at Whole Foods regularly and find really reasonably priced stuff all the time. I can buy the same amount of stuff at Whole Foods as I can at Safeway or Raleys and pay less at Whole Foods.

    Granted, my son and I do have multiple food allergies so often our allergy-friendly items cost more at the regular grocery but still...

    The produce prices you quote really threw me though...I've never seen produce prices that high at Whole Foods. Some produce items do get spendy but not like what you posted. I'm kind of in shock!

    Now I want to go do my own $25 challenges at all of our regular stops! Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Great job, you are truly an inspiration! I love your $25 cart challenge, I was wondering if there's a way to find all your $25 cart postings on the website or do I have to do a search? Would be great to have them all in one area to compare. I'm trying to change my food shopping habits and would love to see a posting that demonstrates a week's worth of meals using one shopping trip, not sure if you've already done that or grouped multiple recipes in one posting but it would definitely be helpful to see how one shopping trip could result in 7 days' worth of meals. Fantastic site, I've already referred it to many friends and family!

  5. I shop at WF regularly and haven't seen such high produce prices! Which is odd since I'm in Minnesota and you're in CA, right? I think if you stay away from prepared foods and stick to house brand items you can do pretty well there.

  6. The produce prices really shocked me too! I'd never paid that much attention to them since I used to just hit their deli & salad bar, but I couldn't believe some of the prices I was seeing. Some things were very reasonably priced, like the $1.99 fresh bunched herbs (very generous bunches). But overall I found the produce to be beautiful but way overpriced. Some other things were pretty expensive too, like the $7 bottle of pasta sauce (not even family sized). Then again, I shop at Trader Joe's regularly, so I'm used to seeing much lower prices for these things.

    I agree w/Tara that sticking to their house brand is the way to go there. Most of what I bought was house brand I found the prices to be very good on those! And they're excellent quality, too.

  7. You've inspired me to try my own $25 shopping cart. I went to Save-on Foods today and spent $55 CDN on two large bags of groceries. There's gotta be a cheaper way to eat organic, I swear. (in fairness, I DID buy lightbulbs, but hell - naan bread should not be that expensive.)

  8. I'm so happy I've found your blog! I think I'm going to try this at Berkeley Bowl (make a trip of it if you're ever in the East Bay, you won't regret it!), b/c I'm always getting sucked into all sorts of fancy stuff that I don't need! I'm gradually learning that if I stick to the edges of the store (cheese, bulk items, produce, butcher, dairy/eggs), their prices are really reasonable, considering the quality. (Their meat and eggs are going to look ridiculously expensive compared to TJs, but there's a much higher proportion of really high quality stuff)

    My question for you is, without having a list, how do you go about buying what you need and not going crazy? And how long does $25 usually last you?

    Keep up the excellent work!

  9. That's a great question, Sarah! All I can say is that it takes great restraint & lots of practice. Of course, knowing that I don't have the money available to me is a great help; can't really buy much if I can't pay for it, right? But there are times when I could go overboard and I just need to focus on what I can and WILL use w/what I have at home, v. what I want.

    Let me know how it goes for you. And thanks for the tip about Berkeley Bowl! I'll def. check it out next time I'm in the area. :)

  10. I think the best way to success at Whole Foods is to buy bulk, buy sale items, avoid the produce section and buy the 365 house brand. I got out of there for $30 yesterday, which I thought was pretty good. One of the best purchases was back ribs, cut width-wise that I'll use for soup for about $4.70. It's high-quality, grass-fed beef. I also got about 3 loaves-worth of cornbread making materials and some great olives and organic beans.



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